eBooks and ISBNs

I’m checking into the available options for book ID numbers when publishing digitally. Publishers of eBooks are almost as different as there are numbers of said publishers available on the Web.

Both Kindle Direct Publishing and Nook Press assign proprietary (recognized as meaningful only to them) identification numbers to each book published through their services in order to track sales. This process may be appealing to authors just getting started who don’t have the knowledge or the time to investigate or who just want to see what appeal their book might have – no real money is lost.

If you have an ISBN (International Standard Book Number), you can add it to the rest of your book’s information and it will be included with the proprietary number. If I understand correctly, oftentimes that ISBN number can only be identified with that electronic version of your book. If you choose to publish a print version of your book, or, republish through a different digital publisher, you must get a separate ISBN.

In contrast, a publisher like Smashwords provides the ISBN for you, free of charge. This publisher also distributes eBooks to several third party channels, such as Apple iBooks, kobo, blio, Barnes & Noble, and more – but not to Amazon. As the publisher, Smashwords still has some control over your book, as all other print or digital publisher do.

That ISBN has been sort of a status symbol, “Yes, I’ve been published. Here’s the ISBN number, look it up.” And many people do research books using the ISBN number – that’s what it’s for, especially if your book is published globally.

There is an excellent blog post at the Tools of Change for Publishing Web site on this subject, interviewing the product manager at Bowker, the official U.S. distributor of ISBNs. The post is a year old, but you should read it.

If you want a little more control over your eBook distribution, you can purchase your own ISBN from Bowker – even self-publish. It’s a little daunting, though, to realize that a single ISBN number costs $125.00. You can buy 10 numbers for $295.00 – the better deal at less than $30 a number, to be sure, but still quite a chunk of change for most of us. Do I use the free ISBN from Smashword or take more ownership of my book?

I don’t know yet, but the clock is ticking on that deadline.

You have to make your own informed choice.

 

Digitalizing Your Book for ePublishing

That’s my next project for a book that was published several years ago and is now out of print. The copyright has reverted back to me and I plan to take advantage (I hope) of the eBook industry. I no longer have a digital copy of this book – over 500 pages long – so I’ve decided to find someone to do that for me. Just doing a Google search pulls up so many options it’ll take you days to research all sites.

However, if you are working with a digital copy, the best option is probably the free publishing through Kindle Direct Publishing and Nook Press, which also offer print and lending library services, as well as access to a community of authors and experts. This is my plan for my recent and current projects. You can’t beat the price – and the opportunities,

Many other companies specialize in scanning printed book pages, either bound or unbound, using OCR (optical character recognition), and converting soft copies into eBook format compatible to most retailers, even creating audio books or actually publishing the eBook. In fact, there are so many options out there, I’m still doing my internet homework. I’m also checking out available resource materials and the option to speak to someone in person to ask direct questions.

Some companies also create proofs and then send those proofs back to you. You can do additional edits and send the book back for modification and then converting into the eBook format, even providing cover art – for additional costs. Many companies will distribute the final eBook to global retailers – for additional costs. Claims exist for anything from 85% to 100% sales compensation to authors.

Do your research and compare costs, compensation, copyright, and distribution channels, review contracts, if any, and make a list of what you can afford, as well as your preferences and priorities. Don’t commit to more than you can afford! Find the company that best fits your needs.

Then, take a chance (and keep your day job). We can only hope we sell more than a handful of books!

To Sequel or Not to Sequel

The book is done. You’re ready to move on – but to what?

Perhaps you have two or three storylines plotted out at a high level and you can’t make up your mind which one to choose. You start to flesh out the strongest idea, thinking this will be the easiest path to pursue and quickest way to publish.

But your mind wanders down memory lane, revisiting the characters from the book you just finished. You might ask yourself, “what’re they doing now?” Your characters and world beg you not to shelve them. Yes, I have these conversations with my creations but, so far, only in my head and no one else has heard me yet.

My genre, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, almost requires a minimum of three books. That seems to be a legacy of one of the greatest fantasy adventure writers of all time, J. R. R. Tolkien. (By the way, another of Tolkien’s unpublished works is scheduled for release in May of this year – his translation, with commentary and a short story, of Beowulf.)

Sequels are great, as long as you do more than just rehash what happened in the previous book. Yes, you’re working with the same characters, even the same villain if you want that. But a sequel must stand on its own, have its own conflict, climax, and resolution. Your characters must grow and develop beyond where they ended in the previous book. The best approach is to plan sequels while you write the original book. Envision that arc of new facets of character development across time – decide what that timeline should be. Decide where supporting characters come in and where they leave. Decide if your original villain is the “arch-nemesis” or just the first in a line of challengers.

If readers are as enamored of your characters as you are (well, almost as) then they will look for new challenges and new discoveries.

Readers of sequels want MORE, not the same.

Don’t Write in a Vacuum – Seek Out Writing Resources

As much as we’d like to think that we, as authors, know what we like, know what we want to do, and know just how we want to do it, we’re wrong more often than we think.

I have a bad habit of going for months (and months) without reviewing any other books or authors in my genre. Mostly because I don’t want to risk writing something I think is my great idea but I really copied from so-and-so. Of course, that’s what most of us do anyway, unconsciously, because we mimic what we like. We just need to recognize that we do it, keep it to an innocent minimum, and do not, under any circumstances, PLAGIARIZE.

We also live dangerously when we don’t keep abreast of the trends, good and bad, in the publishing world. We may need to find a publisher, editor, agent, ISBN provider, even understand bits of copyright law, and so much more. Most of the time, our inner circle of writers and friends can be a kind of source, but they’re just not enough.

Accessing other available sources online or in print can prevent a major mistake. All the sources in the world cannot prevent disappointment at one time or another of course, but we know that – at least we should.

Here are some of the resources I try to visit regularly.

Writer Beware/SFWA.org

Writers Market

Writer’s Digest

Poets & Writers

Kindle Direct Publishing

U.S. Copyright Office

I know there are so many more sources, so take advantage of them and never rely on only one. A vacuum (a void, nothingness) is not our friend.

No Problem – I Can Do My Own Cover Art…

I’ve just about finished my book. I don’t want to expend the time and money for an artist to render a cover that may involve several drafts and additional costs and then maybe end up with something I’m not quite sure I really like. I used to draw all the time when I was young – all through grade school and high school, but lost interest in college. I helped my niece develop an interest in drawing when she was only three years old – and she’s now a very talented anime artist. It should be like riding a bike, just get back on, fall down a time or two, but pretty soon you’re back to racing down the street! Not so much, as it turns out.

I purchased an inexpensive graphic tablet and zipped through the tutorial, anxious to get on with my project. Controlling the applied pressure using the pen was a bit tricky, but I finally got the hang of it. Then I practiced using the actual drawing area of the tablet. I found out that I tend toward broad, large strokes that disappear from the screen unexpectedly. I’ve gained enough control over my wayward wrist action to get on with the cover idea.

And here’s where I get to the root problem…I can’t draw anymore! I never would have imagined that old saying “use it or lose it” would apply to me. After all, if I can still write backwards like I did in high school, why can’t I still draw what I see?

Yeah, there are many psychological theories about artistic abilities. But I lean more toward another old saying, “practice makes perfect.” I believe I can, eventually, regain some of my ability – but do I want to wait two or three months for that day?

Nope. Spring break is next week. I’ve called my niece.

Regaining the Passion to Write

For me, that fire to write – write anything, a poem, a short story, play, pages in my novels, even ideas for any creative piece – began to fade over a decade ago. I was devastated and embarrassed after a very bad experience with my first, and only, published work.

For a few years, attending writing classes at a local college and participating in a small writers’ critique group kept me going. I thought I’d rewrite the book – it wasn’t exactly a polished work of art, anyway – or start another book. And I began both tasks. Then, as I stopped attending creative writing classes and the critique group fell apart, so did my drive.

No argument, that was MY choice. I chose not to write more than a few hours a week, sometimes in an entire  month. I used many excuses, some fair, most convenient, to avoid facing the fear of “failure” again. But the need to “succeed” had not been the driving force for my writing in the first place.

I started writing simply for the joy of creating characters and story lines, and seeing those characters come alive. It was FUN. It was exciting to watch a character take over and become much more than I had originally planned.

In later years, the drive came from sharing that hard to define creative spark with other writers. To partake in the incredibly generous act of reading each others’ work aloud, no matter the genre, and of giving and accepting feedback. It is so revealing to hear your words come out of someone else’s mouth!

I recently began talking with a coworker about his goal to write a novel. As the conversations continued, there it was – that shared sense of fun and discovery. It’s just a whisper right now, true, but if I listen…

I have resumed writing and, on a whim, I started this journal to keep track of my voyage back to passion.